So long as politics can be a lifetime profession for some people, thee will be the need, in my opinion, for a bicameral and not unicameral legislature. What can be debated is the relative power of one chamber vis-a-vis the other, and the means by which the upper house is elected. But in principle, a second chamber provides a useful antidote to a definite danger of government: the herd mentality among politicians.
Drilon’s passing into history -which is what his giving up the presidency of the Senate marks- presents a chance to judge the Senate’s record since July. Definitely, a mixed one.
Yesterday, Senator Manuel Villar -of whom, a colleague reminded me, it must be said, that he is an able politician- secured the necessary votes to ensure that there’s no wriggling out of the “gentleman’s agreement” he crafted with Franklin Drilon. While I do think Drilon deserves credit for eventually seeing the light, and opposing the President, he did so aided not by his personal political skills, which proved of the blundering kind, but instead, assisted by the obvious and crude attacks mounted against the Senate by the Palace.
Politically, Drilon has been about as slippery as a beached whale, which is not how being politically slippery -a natural requirement of the profession- requires. Villar is much less obviously slippery and, as his tactical feat in slipping past the impeachment complaint proved in 2000, capable of going for the jugular. Certainly his expected assumption of the Senate’s presidency in July will usher in his being a serious contender for the presidency (or prime ministerial office).
Consider Ricky Carandang’s interview of Frank Drilon on ANC last night:
Q: How many times did we have a reenacted budget and the blame goes to the Senate?
Drilon: Firstly, it was during the last one year when there was so much political turmoil in the Philippines that indeed it was a very difficult time for us in the Senate because of the constant attack to undermine us, because of the constant barrage of propaganda. It was not easy but we stood our ground, fought hard, we went to he Supreme Court and we led the petitioners in questioning EO464. But I am proud to say that a year ago, we were an active participant in crafting policies for the economy, for the social and political life of our country. The administration claims a strong economy because of good revenue collection. Who led this government in crafting the value added tax? Sen. Ralph Recto and the Senate. The President knows the kind of work that I did as Senate President in order to have this legislation that is important to our economy to push through. The other bills like the Anti-Money laundering, that was a very difficult piece of policy that we have to push through. But the past year forced the Senate to take a position that democracy was at stake and therefore we did take action which we thought was necessary in order that we can preserve our democratic system. Apparently it was in danger by the events that we all know of.
Q: Because it looks like we will going to have a reenacted budget this year?
Drilon: Reenacted budget this year. First it got to the Senate about March after 8 months or 9 months and we worked hard. We have the Committee of the Whole. Unfortunately the Senate thought there should be certain cuts made. It is a P1.053 T budget. The cut on the programmed portion was about P26 B and these were cuts which after analyzing the expenditure program, maybe could be set aside and reduce the deficit by P26 B. We talk about reorganization of the government which would not take place this year of which P10 B was allocated. We removed that. We removed the P5 B Kilos Asenso fund which was a lump sum appropriation in addition to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of the local gov’t. units. The local gov’t units with P88 B, another P5 B was added without any indication how this will be used. During the committee hearings in the Senate, I personally asked NEDA and DILG to submit to us a set of criteria which will assure us that these funds will be used not for political patronage but really judiciously. For example I suggested to them why don’t we make it performance- based. If the LGU would be able to increase its revenue collection of local taxes, let us put counterpart funds in order to encourage them to lower their dependence on the internal revenue allotment, build up the capacity by encouraging them to collect local taxes and we will put in counterpart funds from the Kilos Asenso funds. We were ignored. They just said, ‘no, we have our own rules. We just couldn’t agree. You have a P3 B Kalayaan fund which again is a one liner. We have a P2.5 B repair of airports all over the country which the DOTC Secretary himself said this was not in our original plan but NEDA said we have an available funds to pump prime, P 2.3B. We can put this instead of here in airports, which you don’t really need, let us put this in the school building programs.
Q: There are questions and points raised that if the Senate were not there, would ever be raised?
Drilon: That’s right, yes. These would never be raised. We raised these, we made it public. Unfortunately the President said you cut it by P1, I will veto the budget.
Q: So there is no 2006 national budget?
Drilon: Chances are there would be none. We adjourned sine die today. I consulted Manny Villar before we decided to adjourn. He said there is simply no way that we can submit the bicameral conference committee report within today so even if we extend our session tomorrow, there will be no report. He said we will continue looking for ways by which we can come up with the budget. But if come July 24 there is no budget, then we just have to live with 2006 on the basis of 2005 budget.
Q: What about the criticism of Pres. Arroyo and Pres. Ramos that the Senate under Drilon has spent too much time investigating and not enough time on legislation.
Drilon: The investigation took place for the past one year where we said that there’s a lot of political events that led people to get disenchanted with what was happening.. Then we thought that we should use the Senate as a venue through which the people can ventilate their views and seek the truth. Seeking the truth is part of legislation. That is part of our job to provide the venue through which the people can ventilate and know what is happening in government.
Q: I wonder if you didn’t do that…
Drilon: I don’t know. The fertilizer scam was done by Sen. Jun Magsaysay. If he didn’t do that, I don’t know if it will ever surface.
Q: How would the country belike without a Senate?
Drilon: The most basic example is the wage increase, across the board. Move faster? What did the employers suddenly realized? I heard Mr. Donald Dee who is an avid supporter of this administration saying, ‘look we have to think twice about this unicameral parliamentary system.’ Suddenly they come up with a P125 across the board increase. Suddenly they realized that sometimes there is need for a check and balance.
Everything is there: the chicanery of the Palace and the lower house, the blundering verging on incompetence of the Senate as it endured the Palace’s assaults and fought back. Congress -both houses of it- does not exist only to pass legislation; it is meant to represent, and representation includes oversight, advocacy, investigation, what have you. But the Senate forgot that legislation is an important, function, too; and found its other efforts handicapped by clever legal maneuvering by the Palace. Still, they survived; and whether by cleverness or luck -or both- it remains an important political contender.